Say what? Happiness is a pursuit as old as personkind. There’s lot’s a self-help guides, gurus, TED talks, classes, lotions and potions to arrive at the destination. Yet it does seem to remain illusive for many. There’s a few reasons for this and I won’t to explore a couple in a bit more depth.
Paradoxically we now know more and have access to knowledge that previous generations did not have. What was once tightly held information kept within cloistered communities is now just a click away. Yet armed with this knowledge we don’t seem to apply it in such a way and as often as we should to get off the conveyor belt which is our lives. And that conveyor belt is getting faster and faster as each generation ticks on. They say we live in a VUCA world (volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). And yet knowing this seem fairly helpless in doing much about it.
‘Pursuit’ I think is the key word when contemplating happiness. It’s not about the destination but the journey we are often glibly told. What happens though when our journey is on a path that can never deliver us to the destination. This I think is true for the vast majority of us. The reason being our VUCA lives are run so fast that we seldom find time to check the map to see that we are still on track. Before we know it the pursuit of the bigger house and the better car has us heading away from true happiness. The paradox of affluence which bedevils most of us who pursue the acquisition of materials things is that they seldom deliver happiness. The more we get the more we want. Those getting their first private jet soon want the jet with the more luxurious cabin and the longer range. This brings misery rather than joy and misery does not lead to physical and mental well-being.
Luckily there is a solution. The answer, I’m told, lies in another pursuit. Happiness academics, and there are now quite a few, advise us that the research points us in the direction of pursuing experiences not things. Easy-peasy!
The next issue bringing us the opposite of happiness lies in social media. We are wired psychologically to compare ourselves with others which acts as a motivator to stretch and improve. Those we compare ourselves too have to be within the stretch zone and historically this was a smallish circle of friends, family or community. Our psychological wellbeing is not overly impacted when this is our comparison group. However, a new phenomenon has emerged based on social media. Forget the carefully manicured and curated lives of our friends. We can see through some of that BS and have evolved to do so.
What we haven’t evolved is a filter for the influencers and celebrities. Research has shown that having access to the level of detail and intimacy of their lives brings them into our comparator group, previously reserved for those within our own social and economic orbit. And here is where the real danger lies. Subconsciously they become our stretch targets. This is a game we can never win. We can never get their perfect bodies, net worth, luxury accoutrements, amazing circle of influential friends or the kind of financial independence that means we don’t have to grind away in jobs until we are in our mid sixties any more.
This doesn’t just cause dissatisfaction with our own lives, jobs, partners it contributes massively to mental health problems and can cause stress and physical morbidity. In short, it’s dangerous. Academics have been musing about the tidal wave of mental health issues in society right now. I’m willing to bet a significant percentage of this comes from unfavorable comparison with people who have no right to be in our comparison group.
This impacts us all but where might it impact on men’s health? Here I am particularly thinking of male body image. When we start following the likes of David Groggins and similar who berate those who don’t push through their own pain barrier and give up too soon, there are perverse consequences. Rather than motivate the individual which I’m sure is their ultimate goal, the follower gets disillusioned meaning their health suffers and their mental health in particular goes into decline. Nothing against Groggins and his cohort, they are great turnaround from adversity stories, but they seldom look genuinely happy!
Luckily there is a solution. Go Groggins style and ‘go hard or go home’. Cut off all social media and don’t go back. Not so easy-peasey!